Games:EDU Jonathan Blow

31 07 2008

Jonathan Blow gave the closing keynote for us at Games:EDU on Tuesday. The most interesting point he raised for me was conflict between dynamical meaning and narrative.

Dynamical meaning is the meaning generated by the game rules themselves. The way the game encourages you to play sows values and motives in you as a player, automatically generating meaning around game elements. This can often conflict with story.

One of the examples he gave is the character Kate in Grand Theft Auto IV. Unlike many of the characters, she gives the player no kind of perks or bonuses, so the player is unlikely to care about her more than nearly any of the other characters. However, the story calls for Nico Bellic to care about her a lot, creating a massive dissonance between the feelings of the player and the protagonist.

Another example: Saving Little Sisters in Bioshock grants you less Adam than harvesting them, however, because it’s a game the designers felt the need to balance both choices. Overall, the choice of whether to exploit or assist has little effect on the situation the player ends up in. Many grokked this evenness after a little experimentation, and realised that it negated the narrative importance of choosing to save versus harvest, rendering the drama built up around it meaningless.

Dynamical meaning often seems to trump narrative due to its influence on player actions, Jonathan contended that the dynamical and narrative meaning can be harmonised, but often aren’t.

We’ll be posting more from Games:EDU in the coming week.

(Image of Jonathan Blow by me)

Microsoft to give developers 70% of revenues

29 07 2008

At a Games Edu today, Microsoft’s Albert Ho said it will share with amateur game developers up to 70 percent of the gross revenue generated by games they sell online through the company’s upcoming Xbox Live Community Games section.  This is more than XBLA, and more than standard dev contracts.

When the system launches later this year, people who develop games through Microsoft’s XNA Creators Club ($99 annual subscription) will be able to sell them on the Xbox Live Marketplace, after going through a process of peer review.

Microsoft says it will take an additional slice of revenue — an extra 10 percent to 30 percent — from games featured at the front of the Community Games store. The company calls it a marketing charge. The idea, according to Microsoft officials, is that the choice placement will result in a higher volume of sales that will more than make up for the extra cut taken by the company.

In terms of pricing, game developers will be able to choose among three levels for their games — 200, 400 or 800 Microsoft points. (That translates into $2.50, $5 and $10.) Games also will be available for free trial.

The initiative is meant to open a new distribution channel for small game developers and broaden the library of games available for download on Xbox Live beyond the more highly produced games distributed through Xbox Live Arcade.

KZero: Virtual Pursuits Breakdown

25 07 2008

KZero have an excellent visualisation of different types of MMO and what age groups play them. There are many there I hadn’t heard of, all neatly categorised. Follow this link for a full size version, and this one for a post by them breaking it down.

(via the infringalicious Wonderland 🙂 Note to KZero – people copying your stuff on the web is a good thing when they point back to you).

The End of “Gamers”

22 07 2008

Ian Bogost has an article up on the newly relaunched EDGE Online (replacement for Next-Gen), talking about ideas of who gamers and what games are. He’s particularly cogent near the end:

When we acknowledge videogames as a medium, the notion of a monolithic games industry, which creates a few kinds of games for a few kinds of players, stops making any sense. As does the idea of a demographic category called “gamers” who are the ones who play these games.

It’s taking some people a very long time to comprehend just how much the industry is fragmenting and expanding; I suppose old memes die hard, and we’re going to need a lot of speech like that above before a lot of people get it. I speak to some very progressive developers nowadays who are convinced that the AAA, boxed product, two week sales window is the road to extinction, and there’s a good chance they’re right. Of course, the people who play those games will still want that kind of content, but it seems like new forms of production and distribution will eventually trump all of the old school studios.

I got stuck into the comments there, and commenters over there seem okay so far too. Here’s hoping the standards stay up 🙂

(CC image by Steve Rhodes)

E3: Small

21 07 2008

E3 has now passed, and seemed surprisingly uneventful even with vastly reduced numbers of people.

Probably the most interesting big announcement I saw out of it and haven’t blogged here yet is Sony’s PSN video rental service. It’s been rumoured (and obvious) for a while that Microsoft were likely to partner with Netflix to offer video through the 360, and this was announced, but SCE seem to have surprised everyone… even though they’re part of a huge media corporation with access to massive amounts of video content.

Pretty much all of the industry comment I’ve seen on E3 this year has been “I’m glad I’m not going”, and in the wake of the event, has become really quite savage. The newly relaunched EDGE Online has a couple of quotes:

“I hate E3 like this,” said EA CEO John Riccitiello. “Either we need to go back to the old E3, or we’ll have to have our own private events.”

Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft North America, was equally critical. “E3 this year is terrible. The world used to come to E3. Now it’s like a pipe-fitters show in the basement.”


(CC Image by Zoethustra)

Brighton, July 29th – 31st

18 07 2008

We’re going down to Brighton soon to run Games:EDU, stage Polygons #12, and attend the Develop Conference.

We’ll be catching up with a lot of people we already know, but if you’re going to Develop too and would like to arrange a meeting with for any reason, do get in touch. Best way is to email david (dot) hayward (at) pixel-lab (dot) co (dot) uk

We’ll be there from the 28th to the 31st and we look forward to seeing you all there. Being based in the Midlands, we’re also pining to see the sea again, though unfortunately it looks like there will be no time at all for deck chairs.

(CC image by smileham)

Shock and Awe

18 07 2008

Great quote today from Ben Feder:

technology is at a point where developers don’t have to shock the audience to amaze the audience

(CC image by CarbonNYC)

TIGA Expands Lobbying

16 07 2008

TIGA is expanding it’s efforts to lobby the UK government, with a tightly packed argument built around training and education. Game development studios have far more to offer the UK than exports, and there’s opportunity for the government to utilise this in developing a more highly skilled workforce.

It’s good to see TIGA making such specific recommendations rather than just demanding tax breaks. They’ve had a much better line in PR for the past few months, especially with the launch of Games Up?. The question mark makes the name clunky, and it doesn’t seem to have a website, but they’re certainly talking to the right people and making sure to get a varied message out regularly.

Not only that, but under Richard Wilson the organisation seems to be taking a very proactive and intelligent approach to supporting the industry. Hopefully, that will prove to be contagious.

(CC image of longhand mathematics by misterbisson)

E3: Retail Rituals

15 07 2008

E3 is now in full effect, which actually means reduced effect since it’s been shrinking for the past few years. So far, this quote is by far the most interesting thing:

“Science is a really powerful brand that no other entertainment property is trying to grab,” said Wright, after complaining that modern chemistry sets “are so nerfed that you could probably eat all the stuff and it wouldn’t make you feel sick”.

It is of course Will Wright talking about Spore, and he’s correct. Spore isn’t exactly going to teach hard science, but it’s based on extensive reading of it, and one of the first things in years to sex it up a little.

Will also claims that Spore now has more species than Earth, but that’s no doubt a bit of PR spin: while about 1.75 million species have been catalogued, estimates range from 5 – 30 million (source).

(Edit: Rock, Paper, Shotgun point to a video of Will’s talk. He spoke accurately on numbers of known species, but it was misreported as all species. The talk is well worth a watch, and only a few minutes long).

Announcements are starting to trickle out, with Nintendo upgrading the Wiimote, and Microsoft announcing avatars and an all round spruce up for XBox Live. Nothing seems to have come from Sony yet.

Most of the content from E3 each year seems a little tepid, yet the event itself has legendary status in the games industry, outside of any big announcements. Developers and journalists we’ve known have studied the event itself rather than the content, with the massive sensory overload leading Idle Thumbs to refer to it as “the balls kneeing robot”. That’s a pretty big contrast to GDC, which is still overwhelming, but the people there are very focused on the content and each other.

I think Tadhgk Kelly nails it at his blog:

It strikes me that if you’re going to do the conference thing then surely the thing to learn is some stagecraft? Don’t put the timid exec on stage if he’s not good in front of a crowd, for instance. Find someone to do it for you with confidence, even a celebrity if you have to. Don’t talk about how exciting things are: show how exciting they are. Don’t trot out lists of features as a replacement for content. In the end of the day, there are better ways to present this stuff but ultimately what it comes down to is charisma, and most of these people doing the conferences are no doubt very talented at their jobs but they comes across as nerds talking about their science project at the head of a bored class on a hot summer’s day. “Exciting!”

A lot of conferences have some pretty unsavoury characteristics, and that may just well be a consequence of gathering many people together in one location, but there are certainly a lot of tricks that game developers are missing when it comes to presentation.

(CC image: Willi_Hybrid)

Google: Lively

10 07 2008

Google have finally launched a virtual world. People have been talking about this since the first google maps mashups, Sketchup and again with Google Earth.

What’s there so far seems pretty high quality, there must be some fairly powerful content creation tools to allow users to generate many of the rooms on show (there’s already a Linden Lab one).

It works with individual rooms, somewhat like Metaplace, rather than a consistent world ala WoW, which will almost certainly give it a lower bandwidth and processing footprint than a typical MMO. Everyone better watch out… not just Linden Lab, but Sony, with PSHome and Virgin with A World Of My Own. A lot of these offerings seem very similar, but I expect Google’s advertising model could crunch right through the competition.

I’ll be interested to see how consistent worlds stack up against the polyphony that’ll be found in things like Lively and Metaplace. I suspect that consistent worlds that people can become really absorbed into will still be able to command subscription fees, while the more random offerings will lead people to expect them to be free or ad supported.

Everything in Lively seems rather stylised and consistent from room to room at the moment, and I do wonder if that will survive in the torrent of user generated content. Will siloing things in individual rooms lead to consistent styles emerging, or will general taste still make it look like Second Life?

(CC image of Lively by ialja)